I’m No Hero
In October, 1971, I found myself on my first airplane ride to Chicago, where a bus would take me, along with 40 other young boys, to the Training Support Center Great Lakes. After a less than stellar first two years at VA Tech, I had enlisted in the Navy. With two years of Civil Engineering behind me, I was excited at the thoughts of serving in the SEABEES.
So I’d like to, as humbly as possible, tell you of my heroic deeds as a Navy SEABEE.
Except, I can’t. Because although I was guaranteed a Class A School, instead of being assigned to the Naval Construction Battalion, I was sent to Data Processing School in San Diego. I was the only newbie in the class. Other members had 6 to 10 years of service, and had re-upped just for Data Processing.
So the closest I came to Vietnam was San Diego. The closest I would come to a Purple Heart was keypunching injury reports while on temporary duty at the Bureau of Personnel, Washington, DC. The closest I would come to sea-duty was two nights aboard the L.Y. Spear, while docked in Norfolk, to implement a computer system. And the closest I would come to being a POW, was welcoming our POWs back home as I stood on the tarmac at Norfolk Naval Air Station.
So I am not a military hero, and I’ll never be one.
One of my favorite Contemporary Gospel songs is “I Can Only Imagine” by Mercy Me.
I can only imagine what it would be like to be Russ Gilley, a young man from my home town of Fries, VA, who found himself at the Battle of the Bulge. While facing an all-out assault by the Nazis on December 23, 1944, Gilley, without hesitation, threw his body over a critically wounded friend to protect the man from a mortar round that landed in their trench.
I can only imagine what it would be like to be Aaron Abercrombie, the first American pilot shot down in the Korean War. How would it feel to know I was going to die? Would my last act be to reach out and touch a photo of my wife and child, and to tell them I loved them?
I can only imagine what it would be like to be Raymond Harrell, one of my best friends growing up. I was the last friend to see him before he departed for Vietnam. Three weeks later, I was one of his first friends to greet his flag-draped coffin.
I can only imagine what it would be like to be Commander John McCain, as he bailed out of his plane while it was on fire following the USS Kitty Hawk explosion. Would I have volunteered to fly again, just to be shot down and taken prisoner? I can only imagine being held, and tortured, as a POW. Would I have refused to be released earlier than prisoners taken before me, just because my father was an Admiral, and it could be used for propaganda? I can only imagine the loyalty and patriotism of someone who would go through this, and still seek to serve his country as a Congressman for 30 years.
I can only imagine what it would be like to be Robert Hamilton, III, a wounded warrior I met in Newbern, NC at Nicholas Sparks’ world premiere of The Lucky One, which he attended as a guest of honor. I can only imagine having over 20 surgeries, and know that I would never be able to walk, or sit, or eat normally again, or not be in pain, for the rest of my life.
And I cannot imagine what it would be like to be Navy Seal leader, Michael Murphy in Afghanistan. Would I have the courage, the dedication, to leave a protected position and leave myself exposed while I signaled our coordinates, so my fellow soldiers could be rescued? I can only imagine what it felt like to have dozens of shots biting into my body, to summon up that last ounce of fortitude to get the message sent. I can only imagine what it would be like to lay on a rocky ledge in Afghanistan as my body forces seeped from my body, knowing I had made myself a human sacrifice for my country.
No, I am not, and I will never be a military hero. But I can seek out those young men and women in uniform in the restaurant, or in the airport. I can ask them if they have been deployed, and if so, buy them a coffee, and let them know they are in my prayers daily.
I can visit every function at the Southwest Virginia Veterans Cemetery in Dublin, VA. I can stand before each row of tombstones, read off their names, and give them a hand salute.
During the National Anthem I can stand proudly, covered, and offer a hand salute.
And I can, and I will, stand steadfast and battle the maligning media and the liberal legislators that would seek to undermine, demean, and diminish the U.S. Military.
No, I am not a hero, but with my dying breath I will praise God for our veterans, for ours is the land of the free, only because of the brave.
God Bless the USA.
Jerry L. Haynes is a local author and speaker. He lives in Dublin, VA with his wife Judy. He served in the US Navy from October, 1971 until September, 1975. After graduating from Great Lakes, he attended Data Processing School in San Diego. He then served 12 weeks of temporary duty at the Bureau of Personnel in Washington, DC. He finished his enlistment at Data Processing Service Center, Atlantic Fleet. His two best memories of the Navy was serving as an escort for Rear Admiral “Amazing” Grace Hopper, the pioneer of the computer and welcoming the POWs back to the USA.
He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through his website, www.BringingHopeAndHappiness.com.